Best Tips on Selling or Giving your Music Away
What Platforms and When to Charge?
In the heart of the digital era, DJs and musicians are emerging left, right and center. This article will tell you how to get ahead in an increasingly competitive market.
No matter the stage you are at when it comes to your music career, the thought of releasing music to the public can seem overwhelming at first. Having worked on your art for weeks, months or even years, it is only natural to want recognition for your hard work. However, with hundreds-of-thousands of tracks being released daily, it is notoriously difficult to get your music heard.
But despite the music industry being among the most competitive arenas in the world, the internet has created opportunities that never before existed… This is good news for aspiring artists, as with the right strategy, anyone can gain exposure for their music.
So without further ado, here is an overview to get to know about music distribution, and how to do it successfully, your way…
The Different Ways in Which you can Distribute your Music
Many musicians choose to dispense their music through independent distributors, based on a distribution agreement between the two parties. An independent distributor could offer distribution services to record labels, or artists. That being said, it is usually only the big names who can afford to distribute their music in this manner. Luckily, there are a few websites and services that allow you to distribute your recordings both physically and digitally. The success of digital music distribution has reached the point where brick and mortar distributors are fast becoming obsolete or very niche and local bound.
There’s no use in working hard without working smart, and digital distribution has been the highest revenue of music distribution since 2015* and streaming not long after.
Without the enlistment of a music distribution service, artists may miss out on opportunities to have their music streamed on platforms like Apple Music or Spotify. What’s more is that the music will not be featured on playlists, and cannot be bought and downloaded from stores such as iTunes. If it is your goal to get your music out into the world, signing up to a distribution service enables you to get your tracks onto some of the biggest platforms around.
Within the digital realm, you will find sites that offer free distribution, and sites that offer paid distribution. This is where proration comes in, the term used to describe the division of royalties between musicians, songwriters, producers, publishers and record labels. Some sites offer better deals than others, but you may want to forgo digital distribution entirely.
You can also physically distribute your music, using tangible (pre-digital style!) recordings such as cassettes, vinyl and CDs.
Pre Digital of Getting your Recordings Out There
Back in the day, records were distributed independently, and record labels were responsible for promoting sales. Of course, each of these two middlemen took a cut of the revenue, and yet the system still exists to some extent today. Physical recordings, although not nearly as popular as they used to be, are still selling in large numbers.
Vinyl, CDs and cassettes are a little old school, but enjoying a growing new revival, and if you (are/are not delete as appropriate)down with the kids, this could be the path for you. Alternatively, you could just be a massive fan of retro or a strict audiophile, and that’s okay too. But no matter your reasons for going pre-digital, if you’re looking to sell physical recordings in this day and age, you have several options to choose from:
Get Your Own Website
These days there are a wide variety of free websites to choose from, but if you want to get a competitive edge, then it’s a good idea to purchase a dot-com domain. These generally are not free but have the benefit of added professionalism and a worldwide audience. Once you have your own, band, artist, “branded” website from which to sell your physical recordings, you can promote your site via social media.
When it comes to selling anything online, the key is to generate as much traffic as possible. This can also be done with affiliate marketing or paying other websites to advertise your music.
If you look to use affiliates to help promote your website, then you will need to be shifting some volume of your recordings (excuse the pun) to make it worth their time and effort.
Approach Independent Record Stores
Vinyl in particular is fast regaining popularity, and there are fantastic independent record stores to be found in every major city. By approaching these privately-owned stores, you can strike a deal with the owner and stock your music on consignment. You needn’t visit the stores to make an enquiry, a friendly phone call will suffice.
Cold calling independent record stores should not be overlooked as a means of selling your music, as many are on the hunt for new and emerging artists. Remember to be persistent, calling as many stores within your area as possible, the more stores you can get your tracks into the better!
There will be a great benefit in creating good relationships with these store owners and their teams as they can help sell your stock too and promote your “brand”.
Get Your Music into Major Stores
It isn’t easy to get your recordings into major store listings, but obviously, it’s not impossible either.
The only real way, and the only way for many over the decades, is to get a record deal with distribution. This of course may be the pinnacle of your career and would make most or all of this article a bit redundant if that is where you are at.
However, the other points within here could and will help you on that journey.
And by record deal, that doesn’t necessarily mean with one of the big three or their subsidiaries, a decent indie label with good distribution networks is often the best solution of all, and you could be networking with some of them right here!
Physical versus Digital Distribution
When it comes to choosing between physical and digital distribution, the first thing that comes to mind is the quality of sound. While vinyl is revered for its high audio quality, the cost and reach of MP3 streaming are appealing. It’s all very well catering to the audio junkies who insist on vinyl, but is reach not more important? Well, this question can only be answered based on your unique goals and values.
If you prioritize distributing high-quality playback, then vinyl might be for you. On the other hand, if you want your music to be heard by the masses, then digital distribution is mandatory.
The role of record labels and distributors has shifted significantly, and the internet and personal tech have brought many changes to how people buy and consume music. There is more time spent online, and less money spent on tangible music and, as most producers and mastering engineers will agree, at a cost of their finely tuned work!
Another point to consider is the cost of having physical copies made. Here are a few averages based on ballpark figures gathered from various American companies:
- 500 copies of 12″ LPs: $2809 (American Vinyl Co: https://americanvinylco.com/product/500-12-record-package/)
- 500 copies of replicated cassettes: $800 (Cassette Work: http://www.m2com.com/audio.html)
- 500 copies of blank CDs for printed replication: $1470 (Nationwide Discs: https://nationwidedisc.com/CD-Replication-Digipaks2)
Aside from financing itself, there are risks involved in investing in physical stock. Unless you’re a big player, distribution is limited and so needs to be carefully planned. Be aware that there are no guaranteed sales, and you don’t want to be sitting with a pile of dead stock. That being said, there are financial risks involved in digital distribution as well.
NB, it is always nice to go back to a physical piece that you have worked on and can hold and play on a good bit of kit.
Digital Distribution Platforms
When it comes to digital distribution platforms like Bandcamp, Cdbaby and Ditto Music; there are varying price structures to consider. Over and above the fees and commissions collected, there are also different promotional services to choose from:
This platform offers free distribution for artists as part of a basic plan. Bandcamp takes 15 % commission of the sales made on their site, but this drops to 10% when an artist’s sales surpass $5000. The site also offers Bandcamp Pro for premium tier artists (at $10 per month), and Bandcamp for Labels (at $50 per month for unlimited artists).
One of the main perks of Bandcamp is that instead of the platform dictating a cost for the music, the artist is free to choose a price themselves. Artists may also give away their music for free, or even use an honesty system that allows buyers to decide how much to pay. This model has been proven successful in social experiments and is an amazing way to promote new releases.
Cdbaby charges $9.95 per standard single, $29.95 for pro singles, $29 per standard album and $69 for a pro album. The company takes a 9% cut of all downloaded songs and $4 from each physical sale. You can also expect CDbaby to take 30% from platforms including YouTube, Facebook and IG collection.
Promotional services include worldwide digital distribution and CD distribution, the ability to make money from YouTube and sync licensing for film, games and television. With Cdbaby, you can also launch a pre-save Spotify campaign, expand your Spotify following, grow your email list, showcase a YouTube video and create an audio ad on Spotify.
Ditto Music offers a 30-day free trial for artists as part of the basic plan (1 artist only), before converting to the full price of $25 per year. The site also offers a professional package (2 artists) at $40 annually and a label package (5 artists) at $100 per year. On Dittomusic you can keep the full 100 % of rights and royalties.
What’s more is that with Dittomusic, you can benefit from promotional services such as the promo package. The promo package is designed to assist artists in growing a global fanbase. A team of music industry experts are on board and ready to help optimize online presence, land press coverage and to ensure that your music has a broad reach.
Each of these digital distribution sites offers streaming services, and there are many more sites to choose from including:
- Record Union
- Spinn Up
When to Sell, When to Give Away
When it comes to the question of selling your music versus giving it away, there are a few pros and cons to consider.
For starters, by self-submitting your tracks and albums to platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud and Apple Music you can keep the rights and the cash. On the flip side, you have to foot the bill and learn the ropes as you go. Building a music career is a full-time job, and you need to also consider if you have enough connections for a solid following. There is always the concern that any lesser-known bands might not actually sell their music in the long run, particularly if any pricing of the music is wrong.
There are so many points to consider when giving away music for free, whether online or physically at gigs. Of course, the plus to giving away free music at gigs is the added hype at the gig itself. Other than this, there is not much to be gained by giving free music away to existing fans. It does not broaden your exposure and therefore cannot be considered low-cost marketing. On the other hand, it is a great idea to have physical copies of your music at gigs, where you already have a captive audience and live atmosphere.
Giving away music promotionally as a means of advertising live shows and expanding a following is an effective marketing tactic. It is imperative to gather a strong following in order to create a clientele base that will support your music career. Without this, attempting to sell your music might put off potential new customers or followers. Asking well-known influencers to promote your music, is another strong technique that can be used to gain exposure.
By approaching influencers that hold sway within the music industry and particularly your genre of music, you can reach the right fanbase and broaden your exposure. Another great promotional strategy is the age-old giveaway technique, with a digital twist. Instead of giving away physical music, consider creating a pamphlet or card with a link to free MP3 downloads. Better yet, get the audience to click on these links during the gig itself. In addition to these modern techniques, there is always the old-school white label method, where free physical copies or MP3s are mailed to DJs for promotion.
Setting your Business Plan for a Release
Creating a plan to get your recording reach is no walk in the park, but there are several techniques that can help. The best place to start is with YouTube and social media, provided you can generate enough traffic. However, by approaching influencers you can expand your following and distribute your recordings to the world. YouTube videos in particular are a great promotional tool, and you can also monetize on the platform using ads. Bear in mind that with YouTube you will need a lot of plays to make just small amounts of money.
The concept of “build it and they will come” is not a thing. It takes a considerable amount of planning and hard work to get your music out there, but done correctly you can boost your following and get noticed. One of the best ways to do this is by offering a free MP3 download, with a discounted offer for the vinyl version. Another idea would be to offer one free MP3 track while upselling your EPs or albums. While Bandcamp is known to generate a lot of income for users, the downside is that it isn’t really a consumer-used platform and more of a “lead the horse to water” situation, whereby artists must back their own marketing.
At the end of the day, digital distribution has become mandatory in order to reach the most new fans. Distribution done right expands your visibility and gets your tracks into as many ears as possible. We wish you the best of luck in your musical endeavours and hope to be hearing your tracks soon!
Want to write for Carbon Studios? Do you have experience in one or more parts of the music industry that can translate into valuable content for our members? We want to hear from you!